Monday, July 28, 2014

The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

The Mote in God's Eye
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Blurb (courtesy of Amazon Reviews):
In the year 3016, the Second Empire of Man spans hundreds of star systems, thanks to the faster-than-light Alderson Drive. No other intelligent beings have ever been encountered, not until a light sail probe enters a human system carrying a dead alien. The probe is traced to the Mote, an isolated star in a thick dust cloud, and an expedition is dispatched. In the Mote the humans find an ancient civilization--at least one million years old--that has always been bottled up in their cloistered solar system for lack of a star drive. The Moties are welcoming and kind, yet rather evasive about certain aspects of their society. It seems the Moties have a dark problem, one they've been unable to solve in over a million years.

As part of my science fiction binge, I picked up The Mote in God's Eye as a frequent entry on "Best of Science Fiction" lists, knowing nothing more about it.  The blurb on the back of my edition makes it clear that this is a book about first contact, and that's the extent of the explanation.

Let's sum up:  humanity encounters another race that is unlike us both psychologically and physically - and yet there is a hope that we can learn from each other and live in peace.  As the story unfolds, the simple and gently charismatic "moties" reveal a darker side to their existence - which I can't really get into without giving away a big part of the story - and the initial thrill of deep space exploration and First Contact is overwhelmed by dread and fear.  A few scenes had my jaw on the floor while simultaneously shivering under my blanket from the delicious mix of "creepy" and "unforeseen."

This book has truly earned its place on the "Best Science Fiction" lists, and yet the ending leaves only questions.  Nothing is truly resolved and the authors leave it up to the reader to decide what the fate of these two species might be.  At least, that's what I thought until I realized this book is the first part of a trilogy.  Granted, it took the pair something like twenty years to finish the second and third books, but still.  Another frickin' series.  Great.

The plot is what drives this story.  There are a least a dozen named human characters (besides the moties themselves) and yet I don't think I could give a decent description of any of them, other than "token female" and "space captain."  However, that's probably okay, because this book is all about the questions it raises.  Knowing that humans are essentially animals - animals that must compete for survival or die - can we ever find a way to coexist with another sentient species whose very existence and competition might mean an end to ours?

This is not a warm-fuzzy book, nor is it really a shoot-em-up space opera.  It's a "thinking" book, in the sense that when you close it, you have to really think about it, to digest it, to absorb it.  I'm honestly not sure if I'll be continuing with the series because I don't know how the resolution of the raised questions could be better than the asking.

4+ stars!

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